BY ANDREW TROUNSON AND JULIE HARE
Deakin University became the first university to say it will wear the cost of grandfathering all its 2014 students from fee hikes come 2016, slamming the timing of the Abbott government’s fee deregulation as otherwise unfair to students.
Vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander challenged Education Minister Christopher Pyne to similarly grandfather its funding cuts to universities that the fee hikes are supposed to cover but will now leave Deakin out of pocket.
Professor den Hollander said the government on budget night had given students just four hours’ notice that those enrolling from May 14 face potentially significantly higher fees come 2016 when existing maximums are scrapped and fees deregulated. Students enrolled before May 14 will be unaffected throughout their studies up until 2020. In contrast, she said, under law universities are required to give international students a full 18 months’ notice of fee increases.
“It is going to cost us money and we are concerned about that, but I would not be able to look students in the eye,” she told The Australian. “Four hours’ notice is tough on students.”
Deakin is more exposed to the timing of the changes than other universities as it operates on trimesters and the budget was announced in the middle of enrolments for its second trimester. Its decision means that come 2016, the university won’t charge higher deregulated fees for any of the 2014 cohort even though the government will be cutting per student funding by 20 per cent.
Professor den Hollander said Mr Pyne should extend grandfathering of fee deregulation and funding cuts to cover all students enrolled before the 2016 start date.
“That would be the honourable thing to do and that would give the 18 months that international students get,” she said.
If that wasn’t possible, grandfathering of the changes should be extended to at least January 2015 to give universities time to work out their fees and give students and parents fair notice of changes.
Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said universities weighing up whether to grandfather students from fee increases faced an effective 20 per cent funding cut if they did.
Deakin made the decision on Friday afternoon, ahead of reported comments from Mr Pyne to Fairfax Media yesterday that universities were free to grandfather fees for students if they chose. He also criticised vice-chancellors opposed to his reforms for being like released caged birds that are too afraid to fly. Professor den Hollander hit back, saying if universities were expected to extend grandfathering of student fees, then funding cuts should likewise be grandfathered.
Rather than being a caged bird, she said being a vice-chancellor amid all the uncertainty was like being “a canary going down the mine shaft to test the unintended consequences of policy.”
Mr Pyne welcomed Deakin’s decision but didn’t address Professor den Hollander’s concerns that Deakin had to wear the cost of being fair to its students. “Jane den Hollander is doing exactly the right thing both for herself and for her university,” he said. “She’s the first V-C to publicly indicate she’s embracing the freedom and reforms that I want to give her.” (THE AUSTRALIAN)